Why ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Fans Are Upset About Johnny Depp’s Return as Grindelwald

Warner Bros.’ endorsement of Depp is both morally and narratively questionable.
Fantastic Beasts
By  · Published on November 17th, 2017

Warner Bros.’ endorsement of Depp is both morally and narratively questionable.

Yesterday, Warner Bros. released the first full cast photo, title and premiere date of the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel via their Twitter page. Harry Potter fans were abuzz… although not entirely due to the excitement. Sure, there’s a certain level of anticipation and longing to return to the Wizarding World, but there’s also a glaring problem that’s even staring us right in the face in the new promotional material of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Johnny Depp returning as Gellert Grindelwald has outraged the Harry Potter fanbase, and I definitely share their sentiments (and briefly touched on the topic in my article yesterday too). Despite the fact that backlash against Depp has been steadily ongoing for quite some time, Warner Bros. has taken no actionable steps to excise him from the family-friendly magic-centric franchise.

The first and most important reason that Warner Bros. should have and should still replace Depp is the domestic abuse allegations. Of course, those accusations didn’t even prevent his casting in the film in the first place. Last May, Amber Heard (Justice League) filed for divorce from Depp, citing that she repeatedly endured “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse” from him. Heard was even granted a restraining order at the time those proceedings took place. In spite of it all, Depp’s Fantastic Beasts casting was announced in October of that year, which served as a depressing reminder of the cyclical wilful ignorance that Hollywood is capable of employing in the name of financial gain. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did well in the box office regardless of Depp’s appearance.

These days, Warner Bros.’ initial inaction takes on a new level of unacceptability in light of abuse allegations coming to light in troves. Kevin Spacey’s effective removal from Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World after multiple people came forward accusing him of sexual abuse set a shocking new precedent on how producers could take action against abuse. And as critics of Depp’s appearance in Fantastic Beasts indicate, there is now a distinctly lowered tolerance of “separating art from the artist.” Big stars can and should be ousted for their disastrously inappropriate behavior.

Of course for some, the performance is paramount to any abhorrent actions an actor makes “in his personal life.” But the thing is, Depp didn’t even play a particularly compelling version of Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemAs EW put it, “The notorious dark wizard’s magical unmasking at the end of Beasts has prompted snickering in theaters, which is probably not what the filmmakers intended.”

Of course, in reality, the reactions to his character’s tiny cameo in the first Fantastic Beasts movie were more mixed than that. There are inevitably people who still swoon over Depp, although there are those who would much prefer Colin Farrell return as Grindelwald instead too.

Warner Bros.

The Fantastic Beasts camp were never mum about their support for Depp’s apparent ability to bring some kind of “gravitas” to Grindelwald. Per executive producer David Heyman:

“[Depp was cast] Because he’s iconic. He’s an iconic actor and we needed an iconic actor to play this part. Johnny’s created two or three iconic people, people who are unforgettable. He makes choices, and that was really, really important … [we] wanted somebody who could, on the one hand, seduce, but, on the other hand, be really scary. Johnny can do that. He was an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Harry Potter creator and Fantastic Beasts screenwriter J. K. Rowling herself declared, “He’s done incredible things with that character.”

Director David Yates joins the conversation with, “What you have to remember about Johnny is that extraordinary talent and that talent never goes away. Hollywood is such a fickle place. People go up and go down.”

If that’s the case, Depp has been experiencing a very persistent ‘down’ period. Depp’s track record in recent years has been fairly abysmal. Aside from one too many Tim Burton collaborations, Depp headliners such as Transcendence and Mortdecai did poorly with critics and in the box office, the latter being an outright bomb. Already-established franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland did manage to make money. In all fairness, people still think he makes an alright Jack Sparrow. But, Depp’s single critically acclaimed leading role in the last five years came about in Black Mass. Considering all these elements together, Depp’s “star power” is truly rather tepid.

With such mixed reactions to Depp’s exceptionally tiny role in the first Fantastic Beasts film, and the moral obligation to rid the franchise of someone with such serious allegations leveled against him, it’s frustrating that Warner Bros. hasn’t done something about it. In the wake of the Weinstein fallout and Warner Bros.’ own investigations into Brett Ratner and Andrew Kreisberg, the lack of initiative in the case of domestic violence is extremely troubling for fans. But furthermore, fans themselves expect so much better from the franchise, and if they aren’t being heard, what’s the point of something as fandom-driven as a freaking Harry Potter spin-off series?

I guess, for now, this is all we’re really capable of doing:

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)